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Albany, New York
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas is currently taking heat for his association with Jack Abramoff, a notorious DC lobbyist who is accused of bilking millions out of his Native American clients. Currently Abramoff is under investigation by the Justice Department as well as the Senate Indian Affairs Committee for the work his lobbying gang did for seven different Indian tribes between 2000 and 2004.
Trouble is Rep. DeLay isn’t the only Washington politician who has a sordid history with Mr. Abramoff. According to federal disclosure reports, Montana Senator Conrad Burns has received over $150,000 from the tribes during the period Abramoff’s cartel was representing their gaming interests.
Not surprisingly, Burns’ opposition in the Big Sky country is blushing with excitement. The Democrats are accusing the long-time Senator of violating ethics rules when he used his influence to help get the Saginaw Chippewas, an Indian tribe from Michigan, a fat $3 million grant for a school construction project in 2003.
Senator Burns is currently the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Interior subcommittee, which oversees all federal funding to Native American tribes.
“Burns carried Jack Abramoff’s water on a very important bill,” Brad Martin, the executive director of the Montana Democratic Party told the Great Falls Tribune. “Montanans have a right to know.”
Despite Martin’s complaint, the committee has yet to announce whether they will take up his call to investigate Senator Burns.
To add more spice to the ordeal, after Congress awarded the grant to the Saginaw Chipewas, Burns’ former chief of staff, William Brooke, went to work for Abramoff’s profitable lobbying group.
Of course Burns’ spokesperson James Pendleton claims his virtuous boss was not influenced by the Saginaw Chippewas’ $36,000 donation.
Pendleton claims money doesn’t buy policy. Yeah right.
Liberals in Montana are hoping to prove that Burns was indeed influenced by the contributions. They’d love nothing more than to evict the right-wing Republican from of his plush DC office. And it seems they’ll pounce on anything that helps to make the case for his ejection.
Despite what the Democrats claim, however, the Abramoff saga is not a partisan issue — it is just one page in a much larger volume of dirty Washington tales and campaign sleaze.
The Montana Democrat’s grumbling about Burns comes at a favorable time as well. The Senator is up for reelection in 2006. But truth is, the Dems are slinging mud at a selective target, while they ignore the fact that Burns’ Montana rival, Democratic Senator Max Baucus, also scored $7,000 from the casino tribes while Abramoff was serving as their lobbyist.
Senator Baucus has not been accused of lending any favors to the tribes. But it isn’t just Baucus and Burns that the tribes have showered with gifts. While clients of Abramoff, the tribes donated well over $3 million to more than a dozen candidates of both political parties. The tribes collective hope? Protect their lucrative gambling interests.
Funny thing is, Indian gambling has long been a Democratic, not a Republican project. In 1990, according to FEC records, the Democrats received 100% of the contributions made in the interest of Indian gaming. By 2000, of the $4.3 million donated to both parties, the Democrats received 79% of those funds. In the 2004 election cycle the Democrats pocketed $4.7 million compared to the Republicans $2.3 million.
The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, which is at the heart of the DeLay probe, gave the Democrats hundreds of thousands of dollars over the period Abramoff was serving as their voice in Washington.
Between 2000 and 2001, while Abramoff was still on the tribes pay roll, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians gave the Democrats $95,000 in soft cash. That was 44% of their total soft money contributions to federal candidates that year.
It is clear that influence peddling in Washington is not a partisan issue. And even though Abramoff is a powerful Republican lobbyist, he has few qualms with his clients paying off politicians of either party. For example, the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, which was represented by Abramoff in 2000, gave 72% of their total contributions to Democrats that same year. And the list goes on.
So before DeLay’s adversaries break down his office doors, and haul the scoundrel off to the guillotine — the Democrats better take a long hard look at their own relationship with Mr. Abramoff — as the Republicans weren’t the only ones to benefit from his misdeeds.
JOSHUA FRANK is the author of the forthcoming book, Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush, to be published by Common Courage Press. You can pre-order a copy at discounted rate at www.BrickBurner.org. Josh can be reached at: Joshua@BrickBurner.org.